§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord LOREBURN)
My Lords, the Bill to which I am about to ask your Lordships to accord a Second Reading is substantially the same as that which I introduced in the month of August last. That Bill did not pass, and the course which this House took with regard to it is one which I regretted at the time. Since it was rather late in the session the Government withdrew the Bill for the purpose 1239 of reintroducing it again this year. It has now been again read a second time in the House of Commons by a majority of three or four to one. Another event has happened. Two Bills corresponding to the double purpose of this Bill have been introduced into this House by members of the Opposition. That certainly to some extent simplifies the task which I have to discharge, and I for one have never regretted that these Bills should be introduced, because they show what is in the minds of the majority of this House.
The Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, attaches that part of the Government Bill which relates to the crofters and crofter tenures strictly so-called. The Bill pays us the compliment of being very largely taken from our own measure. There are, however, grave differences, and there are also, I think, grave defects in the Bill of the noble Lord. It is so restricted by various conditions that very few will be able to come in under it. It imposes rates upon crofters in respect of improvements other than those which are agricultural, on which in theory a good deal may be said, but which would raise a storm in practice. The powers for the enlargement of holdings created by this Bill are very insufficient, the transfer of powers of the Congested Districts Board to the Crofters Commission as proposed by the noble Lord, is, I think, a mistake, for it is transferring administrative functions to a judicial body, and, lastly, no pro vision is made to enable the Commission to create new holdings. I say those are grave differences, and some of them are grave defects, but I do not propose to dwell upon that subject this evening, having indeed an abundance of other matter, and because I think, if nothing was before the House except the strictly crofting proposals contained in the Government Bill, there would be no difficulty about the Second Reading after the support which was given to the Bill introduced by Lord Lovat. The main lines are the same, and I shall therefore part from that Bill at once.
I come to the real subject of controversy —namely, the proposals of the Government in regard to the Lowlands and 1240 non-crofting districts. Upon the subject of the need for a Small Holdings Bill I need not say much, because the need is admitted, but I must say a few words in view of the criticism made last year that no such explanation was offered. My Lords, I desire to place this Bill upon its true foundation without exaggerating it. There is great rural depopulation going on in the country districts of Scotland, which is a source of sorrow and danger. The population in the rural districts, in the Census of 1891, was 23.06 of the whole population; in 1901 it had sunk to 19.81. The emigration has been increasing, and the migration into the towns has been increasing also. Last year I mentioned it, but the reference was treated, not indeed, with derision, because I think no Member of the House questioned the extraordinary significance and importance of that fact, but it was regarded as an irrelevant fact. I will not repeat the figures I then gave, but I will say this, that great and distressing as is the overcrowding in London and in the great cities of England, which themselves transcend the worst features of Continental countries, it is small in comparison with the overcrowding in some of the great cities of Scotland, and I say again it is a serious danger to the community at large.
I am perfectly aware that other measures will be required before that overcrowding in the centres can be effectively dealt with, but I say that this Bill will, in the belief of the Government, tend to relieve and to check the rural depopulation which is one of the main causes of the increase in the overcrowding in the central parts. This is only one of the different methods by which we are seeking to approach, with difficulty I grant, what is called the problem of social reform, the most difficult, the most appalling problem of modern times, affecting this country in such a way that unless we can solve it the most serious and fatal consequences must arise. The Government and the majority of the House of Commons by three or four to one present this Bill to your Lordships as a bit of concrete social reform, in regard to which we desire to make it just and also efficient, and to welcome assistance from any quarter which will have both the one effect and the other. 1241 It is now admitted that small holdings ought to be increased by Government assistance, and we have the two Bills of Lord Lovat and Lord Camperdown brought in as witnesses to that necessity. The only point, therefore, is how is this purpose to be effected? We have been told that purchase is the only honest method. Now this subject has a history. In 1892 an Act was passed, applicable alike to England and Scotland, which empowered the county councils to acquire by agreement land for the purpose of small holdings. In England that Act has had some measure of success, but it has been local and very partial, so much so that it was thought necessary to pass an amending Act. In Scotland the Act of 1892 has been an unredeemed failure from beginning to end. I believe in the whole sixteen years of its existence there has only been one instance of its application—in the County of Ross, I think, and in peculiar circumstances.
In point of fact there has been, at all events in Scotland, two causes which operated fatally against the success of that measure. The first was that the county councils were naturally reluctant to risk the rates upon enterprises of a somewhat unknown character in advance. That was in itself enough to check the success of the measure, notwithstanding which Lord Camperdown told us that some counties, including his own, Forfarshire, did make an effort, but found the tenants were not willing to take the land. Why? Because they are not men of great capital. They look after their own interests naturally and legitimately, and they were not prepared to lock up such capital as they possessed in the purchase of land, but thought that if they could hire it at a fair rent they would be able to do better. I believe these two reasons for the failure of the purchase system established under the Act of 1892, will be acknowledged by all who are conversant with this subject.
Why have the Government not proceeded by way of the purchase system? To begin with, it would be a great financial operation. The present is not a propitious time for embarking on a considerable sum or adding to the liabilities of the country in respect of land purchase. I believe that, anxious as all parties were to promote the scheme of land purchase 1242 in Ireland, and although the Act of 1903 had produced beneficent results, and will, I believe, produce more beneficent results, yet in the present circumstances no Government would have had the courage to come forward and propose that Act for Ireland, because of the condition of the money market and the notorious difficulties which it has produced in the administration of that Act. We do not propose to proceed by purchase, because it is utterly impracticable from a business point of view. The second reason is that the experience of the Act of 1892 has shown us that even if the Government were prepared to come down with a lavish hand for the purpose of promoting land purchase in Scotland it would not be operative. The third reason is that as a solution it was rejected by this House and by the other House last year in the case of England.
We are accustomed to hear the English Act of last year spoken of as if it were a purchase Act. It was nothing of the kind. It was a compulsory hiring Act, though t small part of it did deal with purchase. The preceding Act of 1892 had bestowed upon the county councils in the United Kingdom the power of the voluntary purchase of land for this purpose. The Act of last year gave to the English county councils the power of the compulsory acquisition of land. If adopted in Scotland such a proposal would be inoperative. I am not aware that anyone proposed to convert the voluntary powers of the Act of 1892 into compulsory powers for Scotland. If any such Amendment were brought forward the Government would, of course, be perfectly prepared to consider it, but that merely touches the fringe of this question, and is in no sense a solution either for England or for Scotland. Purchase having failed, something else must be found. Here again I am glad to think there is agreement between both sides of the House.
The Government propose compulsory hiring. Lord Camperdown also proposes compulsory hiring, as in the English Act of last year. But I am not sure that everyone quite realises what necessarily follows from the adoption of the compulsory hiring system. You must have some third person to choose the land 1243 which is to be the subject of the hiring, to fix the rent, to fix the other conditions of the tenancy, and to lay down the period of years for which the tenancy is to subsist. Emphasis has to be laid upon the article of compulsion when one is speaking of compulsory hiring, because it means that the landlord, for reasons no doubt satisfactory to himself, is not prepared to make an agreement, and every clause and condition, therefore, must be made the subject of decision by some outside authority. That is all involved in the principle of compulsory hiring which has been accepted by both sides of the House.
Let me use the English Act of last year as an illustration. That Act was accepted by this House—I do not say it was in all respects heartily accepted—but it was accepted from public reasons, and I think, if I may be permitted to say so, reasons which were wise and sufficient. Under the English Act, which Lord Camper-down proposes to apply to Scotland, the landlord may be compelled to let his land to the county council for from fourteen to thirty-five years at the option of the county council, and the tenancy is renewable in perpetuity, if the county council thinks fit, on conditions fixed by the Board of Agriculture, against the will it may be of the landlord, but necessarily containing provisions for good farming. There is to be no renewal after the first term if the amenity or convenience of the landlord's property requires that this should be so. The landlord may resume for mining, industrial, or kindred purposes. The county council, being the tenant, is to re-let to whom it pleases, and the occupant may, under the English Act, resign his tenancy with the permission of the county council. Those are the familiar provisions of the Act of last year applied to England.
I have heard denunciations of dual ownership. What is dual ownership? Some people may say that nothing except the three F's in their perfection constitute dual ownership; others may say there is dual ownership whenever there is a long lease. But I put it to your Lordships that, judged by the ordinary common sense of mankind, the tenure under the English Act complies with every reasonable description of dual ownership. You take a man's land 1244 against his will, you fix a fair rent against his will, you give to the county council exclusive occupation in perpetuity, subject to their own right, if they think fit, to throw up the lease at intervals of fourteen or thirty-five years against his will. I put it to every candid controversialist that that is dual ownership in every real sense of the word. The noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition last year said—What gives reality to ownership, what makes it a valuable and precious thing to many-people is that we have hitherto associated with it the power of guiding the destinies of the estate, of superintending its development-and improvement, and, above all things, the right to select the person to be associated with the proprietor in the cultivation of the soil.I believe that is a fair description of the line which is drawn between dual ownership and ownership which is not dual. Under the English Act does the landlord retain the power of guiding the destinies of the estate? Can it be said that he has the right to select the person to be associated with him in the cultivation of the soil? That person is chosen by the county council and placed upon, the land, and the landlord never may know him.
I now turn to the Scottish Bill of the Government, and I will endeavour to confine myself to what I may call Second Reading points. The landlord may be compelled to let the land for small holdings to persons selected by the Agricultural Commission at a rent fixed, if disputed, by the Land Court. The conditions of tenure are very similar to those in the English Act, but of the two the Scottish conditions are more favourable to the landlord. The land is to be permanently small holdings, except that the leave of the Land Court is required in the last resort. The landlord has power to evict for breach of conditions, and he can resume possession for purposes substantially the same as those specified in the English Act. The tenant can renounce his holding, not as in England, at intervals of from fourteen to thirty-five years, but at any time after twelve months' notice. The clauses as to the compensation of the landlord and the farmer are substantially the same as in England. The power of assignment, however, is denied to the tenant in Scotland; he has only this power to bequeath his holding to members 1245 of his own family. The State give a guarantee under Section 16 of the Bill as to the rent and conditions being paid and fulfilled by the existing small holders who come into the Act; but they do not get the benefit of Section 16.
This, my Lords, is our model for Scotland. The other was our scheme for England, which is the model for Scotland of the noble Earl, Lord Camperdown. Of course the Scottish Bill, in my opinion, unquestionably comes within the description of dual ownership as the English Act does. Let me examine the differences between the two Bills from the point of view of the Scottish landlord who approves of the English Act but does not approve of the Scottish Bill. What are the crucial points of difference between the suggestions of the noble Earl and those of the Government? The first great difference is that under the English Act the county council is the tenant. Lender the Scottish Bill the county council is not introduced into the scheme, and I have been sorry to hear on more than one occasion that omission treated as an affront, or outrage, or indignity to the Scottish county councils.
Scottish county councils have, I suppose, a full share of pride not generally inferior to the pride of other people; but not a solitary county council in Scotland has made any complaint to the Government of having been omitted, and when this Bill was first brought in in 1906 no complaint was made in the House of Commons about the omission of the county councils. When the Bill came on in 1907 for Second Reading no objection was made in the House of Commons on the ground that the county councils were omitted. It was only after the English Bill was brought in, which introduced the county councils, that complaints were for the first time heard. I do not know whether this objection is largely shared or not. Last year, when Lord Balfour of Burleigh, who has himself been Secretary for Scotland, made his speech in this House, if my memory does not deceive me, he never made any complaint that the county councils were not included; and subsequently, I observe, he wrote an interesting letter to the Scotsman making a powerful indictment against this Bill, but I do not think he said a word in it 1246 in regard to the county councils being omitted from the scheme. I am sure Lord Camperdown, when he introduced his Bill the other evening, laid no particular emphasis on this feature; and I have read the Amendment of the noble Duke and find nothing in it about the county councils. In these circumstances I think it is very curious, if the feeling is that the county councils should be brought in and that they are entitled to regard their omission as something in the nature of an affront, they should not have been more vocal on the subject.
The reason for their omission lies, I think, on the surface, or, at all events, one sufficient reason. This Bill does not propose to throw any charge or any liability at all upon the rates. The English Bill did, and when you charge the rates you must bring in the county councils. The county councils in Scotland would not have been at all prepared, as they were not prepared under the Act of 1892, to risk rates in this enterprise. In Scotland the county councils are very particular to avoid everything which may increase rates, and very properly, for Scotland contains about one-seventh of the population of England and the area is about one-half of the area of England. The consequence is that over the same area a penny rate, apart from the lesser wealth of the country as a whole, produces less than it does in England. I really think that opinion in Scotland, when it appreciates it, will at least be indulgent to the view I put. This Bill does not propose to bring the rates in at all, but wholly to rest on the taxes if money is required; and let me explain that there is no subtle design to benefit Scotland at the expense of the rest of the United Kingdom. We all know that a rough and ready account is kept of the sums of money which each part of the kingdom derives from the public purse and a fair equality is observed between the different parts of the kingdom, and whatever amount is spent from the taxes for this Bill will of course be debited to Scotland. I think I have given a real reason for not introducing the county councils into the Bill, and it is not necessary to have recourse to a strain of the imagination that we have any desire to affront the county councils.
Still, it may be the landlord will say, "Where is the security for my rent? My 1247 English neighbour has the county councils. I have not the county councils. I have a person I have not chosen and he is placed in possession of my land without my will, and you do not give me a solvent and thoroughly trustworthy tenant like the county council." I think that is a fair representation of his point of view, and it is perfectly true. What is the answer to it? With regard to new holdings that are compulsorily created, if the tenant fails to pay the rent or perform the conditions, the landlord may turn him out, and on doing so is to be compensated under Section 16 for all the failures of tenants except those he has brought on himself by allowing the tenant to remain in unduly long. That is, I believe, the true construction of Section 16, and if it ever comes to discussing the subject in Committee I shall be able to make good that statement. That, at all events, is what the intention of the Government is.
But, still, the landlord may say, "Section 16 gives me compensation, gives me security for rent, and also for anything causing depreciation of the land or for any damage that arises from its being used for small holdings, but that is not the case with regard to existing tenants." He may say, "My English neighbour has small holdings upon his estate. You do not interfere with them. You only create new holdings. The Scottish Bill proposes that all small holdings under £50 a year shall come under the operation of the Bill." That is perfectly true. The Government are very anxious to create security in the case of these existing tenants, not in the smallest degree from a desire to do what is unjust; but the mischief in the present condition is this. The present condition of small holdings tends to squeeze them out. The equipment of small holdings is more expensive relatively to their size. The landlord often cannot afford to pay for adequate improvements, and the tenant has not the security which would induce him to do so; and, therefore, the tendency is that small holdings are apt to be swallowed up in larger farms by the working of economic causes. We believe that if you can, without injustice, create the necessary security, the tenant will 1248 find the means for effecting improvements himself, and will do them better and more economically, the rent will be more safe, and the conditions better for all. In this respect we do not in the least desire to impose unfair terms on the landlord or to treat him unfairly. I have not heard in this House any proposals made either to limit the class of existing tenants to be brought within the Bill, or to safeguard the legitimate interests of the landlord; and if Amendments are proposed—again on the supposition that the Bill will arrive at a stage when such Amendments will be appropriate—the Government will be ready to consider them and, as far as they fairly can, meet reasonable suggestions.
There is one more capital difference, or a difference which has been treated as capital, between the two Bills. In Scotland a tribunal is established, a permanent tribunal, with salaries upon the Consolidated Fund with the usual irremovability attaching to judicial office, to be called a Land Court, and I believe that grave apprehensions have been excited as to the operations of this Land Court, and the dangers supposed to lurk within the proposal, apprehensions that it will follow the Irish model, and other similar alarms. I propose to say a few words on this subject. In the first place, let me consider the functions of this Land Court, and again I say I hope I shall be excused if I only deal with salient points. I think I shall state all the functions, but if I omit minor points I am sure your Lordships will allow me to do so with a desire not to obscure the subject with excessive detail. A function of the Land Court is to decide, if it is disputed, whether certain land is to be taken or not to be taken. In England, under the Englist Act of last year, the Board of Agriculture decides that. The next function is to determine compensation on all points, valuation, and rent. In England these functions in the main—again I speak generally—in the mains these functions devolve on one valuer, and upon this I will say a word in a moment. The next function is to decide whether a landlord is entitled to resume possession for industrial, mining, or analogous purposes specified in the Act, a judicial function to determine whether the case put by the landlord comes 1249 within the provisions of the Act. In England this duty is discharged by the Board of Agriculture. These are the main duties of the Land Court—I think I may say, in substance, the only duties of the Land Court—and they are all judicial in their character.
It is the intention of the Government, the wish of the Government, that the Land Court shall be a judicial, not an administrative, body, that it should not have the initiative, but shall discharge judicial functions in a judicial manner. I am aware that it is regarded with apprehension and even terror in quarters where I do not think it is really quite understood. The functions are in substance judicial, and they are necessary functions, and in England, under the English Act, they are shared between the Board of Agriculture, a valuer, and in one or two instances by an arbitrator appointed in each case by the Board of Agriculture. Now, these functions, if you are going to have compulsory hiring at all—and this is why I dwell upon the subject of compulsory hiring—these functions must be discharged, these points must be determined. I do not know whether it is really the view of many that a valuer, as in the English Act, is preferable to a Land Court. The valuer under the English Act is appointed by the Board of Agriculture for each particular case, who is not obliged to hear the parties or witnesses; he may go and judge for himself. I think that is perfectly defensible as applied in the English Act. I am quite prepared to defend it, and did so last year when it was suggested from the other side that there ought to be someone bound to hear witnesses and parties. The Land Court in Scotland is bound to hear witnesses and parties, and so far as attainment of a conclusion by judicial process is concerned, the interests of landlords—and others also, for we have not to consider the landlord's interests exclusively—are safeguarded more carefully by a Land Court than they can be by a valuer, always supposing that the Land Court is fairly appointed and consists of impartial men.
But it is said the Land Court is not, like the Department of Agriculture, responsible to Parliament. No, it is not because its duties are judicial, not 1250 administrative. We have stripped the Land Court so far as we know of administrative functions it originally possessed, and if there is any remnant of administrative functions remaining, it is our wish that these functions shall be discharged by persons responsible to Parliament in the usual way. Commissioners are responsible to their Parliamentary chiefs, but our object is to isolate those duties which are judicial and put them into the hands of an independent body composed of men who will command popular confidence. It is at least worthy of recollection that Scottish people are accustomed to the idea of a Land Court by the Crofters Acts. These have been, in operation for 20 years, and there has been no accusation of partiality.
There is only one other point I will advert to, and that is the objection made that the money paid is insufficient. We propose to add" £65,000 to the £35,000 supplied to the Congested Districts Board, making £100,000 in all. In the first place I desire to say it is the belief of the Scottish Office, a belief in which, so far as I am capable of forming an opinion—and I admit I am not so capable as some of your Lordships—I concur, that this Bill will not require much money; that it will call up the energy, the enterprise, the resources of the country, and help in many ways. But putting aside that as a matter of anticipation, let me say this is not a money Bill, and if more money is required it will have to be provided by Parliament. The English Act of last year prepared a great scheme of compulsory hiring without reserve of liability in certain matters. I am not sure that any money was appropriated last year, but I believe there is now appropriated £100,000 for working the English Act of last year. Well, it seems to me, if your Lordships were willing last year to pass an English Act for compulsory hiring without any greater assurance than that £100,000 would be forthcoming for the purpose, surely £65,000 for Scotland is in proportion a larger sum.
This is not a money Bill, nor was the English Act. It proposes a scheme, and if to carry it out more money is required, Parliament must provide the necessary amount, or restrict the operation of the Act so that no more money may be 1251 required. What was no objection to the English Act should not be an objection to this Bill. I have no desire to say anything further beyond this. I do not, of course, know what course the House may take. The Government have stated their policy, and of course we cannot be a party to the substitution for our measure of a different scheme, but, subject to that, we are ready and even anxious to meet in a reasonable conciliatory spirit any reasonable and fair amendment that may be proposed.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (The Lord Chancellor.)
THE DUKE OF MONTROSE,
who had given notice, on the Motion for the Second Reading, to move to resolve—That this House, while desirous of facilitating on sound economic principles the extension of small agricultural holdings in Scotland, and of considering such amendments of the Crofters Acts as are shown to be required, declines to pass a measure—said: My Lords, I desire at once to acknowledge the conciliatory spirit in which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has introduced this measure, but I have not observed in his speech any material concessions which would induce me to withdraw the Amendment standing in my name. I feel bound, my Lords, to deal with this Bill as it has come to us from the other House of Parliament. If, as the noble and learned Lord infers, there are any suggestions of a compromise, then we must have an; assurance from noble Lords on the other side of the House that they will accept Amendments on the lines of the Bills introduced by my noble friends Lord Camperdown and Lord Lovat. I must apologise to your Lordships for addressing you for the second time upon this Bill, when, in my view, the situation is so very similar to what it was last autumn. But there is this difference, that we have been able in the meanwhile to ascertain more fully the opinions of those who are interested in agricultural matters in the 1252 Lowlands of Scotland, with the result that your Lordships' judgment of last August has been most triumphantly vindicated.
- 1. Which unnecessarily extends the provisions of the Crofters Acts throughout Scotland;
- 2. Which establishes a Land Court for the whole of Scotland; and
- 3. Which does not enjoy the general approval of the agricultural interests proposed to be affected."—
Some wise man has said that there are three classes of individuals—those who think, those who think as others think, and those who do not think at all. When I observed that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland had introduced his measure into the House of Commons for a second time without any Amendments, I felt almost inclined to include him in the third category. The result of the autumn campaign in Scotland must have given him serious cause for consideration. This campaign was waged with unusual vigour. Not a day passed but the Secretary for Scotland, the Solicitor-General for Scotland, or some other hon. Member did not address meetings, as far as I could see, for the purpose of trying to assimilate their divergent views regarding what would be the probable effect of the provisions of this Bill. But they were tolerably unanimous upon one point, which was that Scotland is inhabited solely by a race of landlords and factors. I hope that the Secretary for Scotland has by now realised, and I rather think, from what fell from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, that he probably has realised, that there are other sensible people in Scotland besides landlords and factors.
I will not detain your Lordships by recapitulating the many objections to this Bill. They have been stated both inside and outside this House. For the sake of brevity I have, therefore, divided my Amendment into three heads, upon each of which I propose, with your Lordships' sanction, to say a few words; and in doing so I hope I shall deal in some measure with the arguments of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. Those who think with me are desirous of facilitating the extension of small holdings and of considering such amendments to the Crofters Act as may be required; but we decline to pass a measure which unnecessarily extends the provisions of that Act throughout Scotland. The Crofters Act of 1886 was passed with the object of dealing with a specific system of land tenure within a specific area. The root of that tenure was that the buildings and equipments of crofts 1253 were the result of the labour and expenditure of the crofters themselves. Thus the crofter was in a wholly different position from that of the ordinary agricultural tenant. He had no lease and he had the chance of losing, not only his holding, but the improvements which he had created. It was to deal with this state of affairs that the Crofters Act of 1886 was brought in.
If experience has proved that any amendments are necessary to that Act, we, on this side of the House, are perfectly willing to deal with them. That was stated to your Lordships last August by the noble Marquess who leads us on this side, and it has been exemplified by the Bill brought in by my noble friend Lord Lovat. Sir George Trevelyan, when he asked leave to introduce the Crofters Act of 1886, stated that—The proposal of the Commissioners is based on, and limited to, the special and local circumstances of the district to which this Bill is intended to apply.And he went on to say—If the Commission had proposed such a measure as this with regard to the common grazing ground of the Lothians or for the eastern counties of England, it would have been in no some a restitution; it would have been an expropriation pure and simple.Now, it is the provisions of this Act that it is proposed to extend to the southern counties of Scotland, where the system of land tenure is practically the same as it is in England, where the improvements are done by the landlord, and where the tenant is safeguarded by the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1906.
The Solicitor-General for Scotland, who has not been always quite happy in the accuracy of his statements during this controversy, has gone up and down the country stating that there is not a vestige of dual ownership in this Bill. It will be in the recollection of your Lordships that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, when he introduced this measure last August, stated that the success of the Crofters Act rested on divided ownership, and that this was a dual ownership Bill—a proposition not to be disputed. My Lords, it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to introduce into the Lowlands of Scotland the very worse provisions of the Irish land system—provisions which we are paying at the present moment upwards of £120,000,000 1254 to get rid of. Then there are the present small holders in the Lowlands, men who are sitting now under the rents that were paid by their forefathers, where improvements have been made for them, and whose houses have been built for them by the landlord, who are, as I have said, protected in respect of any improvements they may have made under the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1906, and who are perfectly contented with the position they occupy. Why in the world are you to force these men to become crofters under the compulsory clauses of the Crofters Act? Why in the world are you to upset the whole economic conditions between landlord and tenant in the Lowlands of Scotland by this drastic measure? I venture to say that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has shown us no good reason, because there is none. We object to the introduction of a Land Court throughout Scotland It is an insult to the intelligence of my countrymen to force upon them a highly paid body of officials to make bargains which they have always been perfectly willing and able to make for themselves. In reference to this subject, I must refer to statements made by the Secretary for Scotland, which, I think, have done more to damp the ardour even of the supporters of this Bill than any argument I could possibly use. With your Lordships' permission I will quote from the "heckling" that took place at Carmyllic on 9th or 10th December last year. I will read the questions put to Captain Sinclair and the answers he gave—
Yes, my Lords, it is money gone. Scotsmen are very shrewd people, and they are quite prepared to take anything they can get, provided they have not got to pay for it. I know that a great number of people supposed that under this confiscatory Government the landlords would in some way or another have to make good the money losses that must inevitably take place under this Bill, but here, for the first time, we are authoritatively informed by the Secretary for Scotland that Peter, in the shape of the taxpayer, is to be robbed to pay Paul, for the purpose of creating experimental small landholders. No wonder the advent of highly paid peripatetic officials is not looked forward to in the Lothians with much favour.
- Q. I understand the State is prepared to advance money. What rate of interest would they take?
- A. The very lowest rate of interest.
- Q. Are there any arrangements for redeeming the capital expended?
- A. Oh, yes; they will have to pay it off.
- Q. Have you fixed any number of years for that?
- A. That will be a matter of arrangement.
- Q. If ten or twelve people took over some land, is the State to advance the capital and put down dwellings and steadings for all the twelve?
- A. Yes.
- Q. Supposing these individuals failed to pay their rent, what position would the landlord be in?
- A. The landlord is protected under the Bill for the creation of new holdings by compensation for all such losses.
- Q. Then who compensates the State?
- A. Nobody compensates the State.
- Q. If the State put out so much capital, how are they to get it back?
- A. They cannot get it back. It is money gone.
And now, my Lords, I come to the third reading of my Amendment. Disguise it as you will, you cannot hide from the "man in the street" that this measure has not the general support of His Majesty's Ministers, of the Liberal Party, or of the people whom it is intended to benefit. We have not as yet heard the views of the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Rightly or wrongly, he is supposed not to favour this measure. We have heard the views at Perth of the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty. Perhaps he will drive another nail into the coffin of this Bill from his place in your Lordships' House. We have not as yet heard the opinion—I am sorry I do not see him in his place— of the noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for War; but he should be an authority on the cultivation of deer forests. Where is my noble relative who owns half Perthshire and half Argyleshire, the kindest and most genorous landlord in Scotland, and one of the best authorities on small holdings? I do not see him in his place to support this measure. You have the opinion pretty freely expressed of the hon. Member for the Leith Burghs, a strong supporter of His Majesty's Government, and an expert in agriculture; you have the opinion of the hon. Member for Berwickshire, a representative Member of a typical county. I have here the 1256 opinion of the East Lothian Farmers' Club, composed, I am told, of gentlemen of all shades of political opinion, who at their annual meeting supported the promotion of small holdings with the general proviso that the good points of the present system of land tenure in the Lowlands should not be interfered with.
Then you have the opinion of the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture, which is strongly opposed to the provisions of Mr. Sinclair's Bill. You have also the report of an independent Committee composed of five members appointed by the Secretary for Scotland himself to report on the agricultural conditions of Denmark. This independent Committee reported as follows—If the rents of small holdings were fixed by valuation, and if the landlords were denied all freedom in the choice of tenants and in the selection of improvements to be made, we think it unlikely that landlords in the Lowland districts would be willing to invest capital in the equipment and maintenance of such farms, since they would have no sure ground for expecting an adequate return on their outlay. The application of the Crofters Act to small holdings generally would thus be apt to result in the withdrawal of landlords' capital from the equipment of small holdings. This would undoubtedly have an adverse influence upon the position of the farmers of small holdings. But there are certain districts in which a system prevails closely connected to that which the Crofters Act originally dealt with. In those districts the provision and maintenance of permanent equipment is wholly or largely left to the tenant. To all such cases we believe the Crofters Act might, be extended, but the extension of the Crofters Act to other districts in which the opposite practice prevails, and the equipment is provided by the landlord, would, in our judgment, be attended by very serious disadvantages.That is the opinion of an independent Committee, and it is supported, amongst others, by Sir T. Gibson-Carmichael and Mr. C. M. Douglas, the late Liberal Member for the North-Western division of Lanark, both strong supporters of His Majesty's Government on every question except the one at issue.
If His Majesty's Government can give us on this side any assurance that they will accept Amendments on the lines of the measures introduced by my noble friends Lord Camperdown and Lord Lovat, they will receive the cordial support of all on this side. If, on the contrary, His Majesty's Government 1257 desire to press forward this Bill in its present shape, I shall be forced to press my Amendment to a division, because I know that I do not speak for myself alone when I say that we object to the Lowlands of Scotland being made a Tom Tiddler's ground for the experimental legislation of the Secretary for Scotland.
To leave out all the words after the word 'that' in order to insert the following Resolution:—' This House, while desirous of facilitating on sound economic principles the extension of Small Agricultural Holdings in Scotland, and of considering such Amendments of the Crofters Acts as are shown to be required, declines to pass a measure—(1) Which unnecessarily extends the provisions of the Crofters Acts throughout Scotland; (2) Which establishes a Land Court for the whole of Scotland; and (3) Which does not enjoy the general approval of the agricultural interests proposed to be affected.' "—(The Duke of Montrose.)
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, the noble Duke who has just sat down has dealt so exhaustively with the Bill from the point of view of noble Lords who are interested in Scotland, that I feel I need not trouble your Lordships with many remarks upon the Bill from that aspect. I rise to-night, as a mere Englishman, for the purpose of pointing out to your Lordships that there is an English aspect of this question as well as a Scottish aspect, and the remarks which I am about to address to the House are prompted by a petition which I presented, to your Lordships from the Central Chamber of Agriculture in England. That petition stated that it is essential, for the safety of the flocks and herds of Great Britain, that the administrative responsibility under the Diseases of Animals Acts should remain in the hands of a single Department. The Central Chamber of Agriculture view with grave alarm the proposal contained in this Bill to establish an independent Board of Agriculture in Scotland.
The people of Scotland have always shown a very great desire to administer their own affairs, and you have, in connection with Scottish Private Bill business, a procedure by which Scottish private Bills are dealt with in Scotland instead of in London. But, in this particular instance, we find the agriculturists of Scotland at one with the agri- 1258 culturists of England in their desire to see one Department, and one Department, only, responsible for the administration of agricultural affairs. There is on the part of the agriculturists of England also no disposition that the rule of my noble friend Lord Carrington should be exchanged for that of the Secretary for Scotland. I say, without the slightest, hesitation, that the people both of England and of Scotland would infinitely prefer to see my noble friend's Department administering the Diseases of Animals Acts throughout the kingdom rather than that a new Department should be set up in Scotland for the purpose.
Those Acts are of the most vital importance to the farmers of this country, and I do not think any time could have been more opportune for demonstrating-that than the present. The recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Scotland was dealt with by the noble Earl with promptitude and severity. But suppose there had been two Departments, and my noble friend had had to consult his colleague the Secretary for Scotland. We know that there is always a certain amount of red tape methods with Government Departments, and such a consultation would have led to needless delay. When your Lordships consider that the markets for many animals, especially sheep, raised in Scotland, are in the northern towns of England, I think you will see that it is essential that all regulations with regard to their movement should be under one authority and one authority alone. For this reason I deprecate most strongly the handing over to the Agricultural Commissioners suggested by the Bill the duties which are now discharged by my noble friend the President of the Board of Agriculture.
Turning for a moment to the Bill itself, I have not yet heard from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, or from any noble Lord opposite, the reason why the county councils in Scotland are supposed to be incapable of administering the Act which English county councils, are capable of putting into operation. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said there had been no petitions from county councils in Scotland in favour of this Bill. Why? Because, in the graphic language 1259 of the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Act which now applies to England was specially designed to "ginger" the county councils; and I have yet to hear of anybody petitioning Parliament that "ginger" might be applied to them to carry out their duties. But I differ from the noble and learned Lord when he said that the Act of 1892 had not been carried out in Scotland. There was a very conspicuous example in the county of Rossshire. That county did put the Act into operation, and allotted a large number of small holdings, some of which, it is true, were only partially successful; but I understand these all have now been transferred to other holders, and that at the present moment the cultivation of thoseholdings is perfectly satisfactory. I do not see why what has been done in Ross-shire should be impossible in other counties in Scotland.
I had the honour of presiding over a Departmental Committee before whom a good deal of evidence was given on this subject. We sent some of the members of that Committee to Scotland, and we gave public notice that we should be willing to receive evidence upon the whole question of the provision of small holdings. We took evidence, and I ask you to look at that evidence and see whether any one of the witnesses proposed anything approaching the Bill which His Majesty's Government have laid on the Table of your Lordships' House. We had the leader of the crofter movement in Caithness, the secretary of the Congested Districts Board, and the secretary of the Crofters Commission, but none of them proposed this extension of the Crofters Act to the whole of Scotland. We had one gentleman of very great experience in these matters—a Mr. Hodge—who told us that the last thing he desired was to see tae whole farming system of Scotland changed; all that he wanted was an exhaustive experiment, in all suitable counties, with small tenancies, and a similar experiment with small occupying ownerships in suitable counties. That is what is aimed at by the Bills of my noble friends Lord Camperdown and Lord Lovat.
The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack did not shrink from the proposition of my noble friend behind me that 1260 this Bill creates dual ownership. He admitted quite frankly that it did, but he added, "You have already dual ownership under the English Act." I should like to follow that proposition a little way The noble and learned Lord said that he believed no very large sum of money would be required to be provided for the purpose of creating these small holdings, and that he looked to the small holders to help themselves. The only interpretation I can put upon that is that the noble and learned Lord expects that the occupiers of these small holdings will put up their own buildings. Do you for a moment suppose that, if these smallholders put up the buildings at their own expense, you can in the long run prevent them having the right to sell the buildings, and to sell the right to occupy the farms on which the buildings stand? But that is dual ownership in its purest and crudest form. In the English Act you have the county council as tenant, a perfectly solvent body to whom to look to carry out all the covenants of the lease, and the county councils are not in the least likely to ask to be put into a position to sell the right to occupy the small holdings or the buildings which stand upon them. There is, I venture to submit, nothing in the English Act which establishes the dual ownership which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack says is identical with the dual ownership set up by this Bill.
Then there is another very important difference. Whereas in this Bill it is proposed to establish a Land Court which, I frankly admit, will be a judicial body—the salaries of the Members being on the Consolidated Fund, and the Members being irremovable except under those very peculiar circumstances which, as we know, rarely, if ever, occur—we infinitely prefer to have responsible for the administration of the English Act my noble friend opposite and his representative in the House of Commons, whom we can call upon for an account of their stewardship. The Board of Agriculture is responsible to Parliament; the Land Court, which it is proposed to set up under this Bill, will not be responsible to Parliament, and that is the great difference between this Bill and the Act which applies to England. I understood that there was some hope 1261 that His Majesty's Government might be prepared to offer some suggestion by which the Bill might be brought more into harmony with the proposals in the Bills of Lord Camperdown and Lord Lovat, but that hope has been rather dashed to the ground by the concluding words of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. The noble and learned Lord said the Government would give full and fair consideration to any Amendments that were put down. It would be rather an insult to your Lordships' House if the Government proposed to do anything else; but what we wanted to know was, would they be prepared in any way to meet the views of my noble friends behind me? I gather that they are not.
Now, my Lords, really will they seriously think this matter over? My noble friend behind me pointed out that noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite have as yet, at any rate, not been very enthusiastic in the encomiums they have poured on this measure. It is perfectly well known that a large number of their supporters in another place look with grave distrust on the provisions of this Bill, and I believe that, if the division could have been taken under the secrecy of the ballot, and without the fear of the crack of the Government Whip, the result would have been very different from the four to one majority of which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack seems so proud. It is evident that there is a disposition on this side of the House to extend very materially the provisions of the Crofters Act where they may be properly applied. Looking back the other day I came across a statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer before he assumed office. He then said he was authorised to speak for the leaders of the Liberal Party Well, he is now authorised to speak for His Majesty's Government, for, in the regrettable absence, owing to ill-health, of the Prime Minister, he is discharging the duties of Leader of the Government in another place. Speaking in Scotland, Mr. Asquith said—The Liberal Party propose to extend the Crofters Act to districts where similar conditions exist, to amend the Act as regards leaseholders and limit of size, to set up a central authority that would be able to supply that demand for small holdings which we believe to exist.If that were the policy, and the only policy of His Majesty's Government, I 1262 venture to think it would be received with much greater favour by your Lordships' House than will be the Bill which does those three things which the noble Duke behind me has pointed out, and in addition, exposes the flocks and herds of the agriculturists of this country to a grave danger from which they would fain that your Lordships would protect them.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (Earl CARRINGTON)
My Lords, I ask the indulgence of your Lordships while I make a few remarks in the capacity, to quote my noble Friend who has just sat down, of a mere Englishman who happens to be Minister for Agriculture for Scotland as well as for England. I am bound to say that during the recess I do not think we had much reason to anticipate any very great difficulty about this Bill. Conservative Members of Parliament were very reticent on the subject, and although Lord Cawdor made a speech in Dundee and the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition spoke on several occasions in Scotland on the subject, yet there was not that active public hostility shown to the Bill which we had reason to expect. We rather hoped, therefore, that the Bill would be reintroduced into this House, that there would be-an important Second Reading debate, that some excellent speeches would be made, and then that the Bill would be read a second time, it being perfectly understood that those opposed to the Bill did not in any way pledge themselves to the whole of its provisions on account of having acquiesced in its Second Reading. Then we thought some arrangement might have been made in Committee and that finally the Bill would become law, and that, as happens in connection with most Liberal legislation, in ten years, everybody would say that it was the proper thing and wonder why there was any objection to it at the time.
But about three weeks ago there was a change in what I believe is called the "atmosphere," and we were told that the Government were in a very tight place. The unexpected happened. My noble-friend, Lord Camperdown, fell desperately in love with my poor little English Small Holdings Bill. He eloped with the Bill across the border, and, with his customary 1263 sagacity, secured the invaluable services of my noble friend on the Cross Benches (Lord Rosebery) to act in the well-known character of the blacksmith of Gretna Green. I see that the noble Earl has resumed his usual seat, but I hope that on this occasion he will abstain from the performance of once more sticking the poor attenuated butterflies on the Front Bench with a pin. The Bill has been very lucidly explained by my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, and, in my humble opinion, he entirely demolished the arguments of the opponents of the Bill. I will, however, with your Lordships' permission, briefly recapitulate the Second Reading objections to the Bill.
The first objection, I believe, is to the extension of the Crofters Act to the whole of Scotland. I believe that has been very greatly deprecated, and, as a mere Englishman, I will leave that point to my Caledonian colleague who at the moment is leading your Lordships' House. Then a great many persons seem to be extremely anxious to retain me as Minister for Agriculture in Scotland. That, I am bound to say, fills me with astonishment, and somewhat with sorrow. As a Home Ruler, I regret to see the representatives of a great Kingdom tacitly acknowledging that they are not able to govern themselves. But as that is entirely a personal matter, I hope I may be excused from going into it.
The next objection is what Lord Rosebery called the affront and disparagement implied in ignoring the county councils of Scotland. Honestly speaking, I fail to see that there has been much ignoring of the county councils. So far as we are able to judge on this side of the Tweed, the Scottish county councils are not very anxious to act, as was clearly put before the House by noble and learned friend on the Woolsack. They are not anxious, for the reason that the guarantees under the Bill are placed upon the taxes instead of the cost falling on the rates, as in England. If I bad been able to have obtained that in my Act of last year I am perfectly certain it would have cleared the ground very much, because the great objection to the Act of last year—and naturally—was that it imposed such a tremendous charge on the rates. The farmers of England, if they have a glandered horse, a scabby sheep, a rotten 1264 cow, or a dirty pig, invariably come to me and say, "We must kill these loathsome animals at once, and the State must pay for them." That is what all the farmers of England are clamouring for. Whether they will get it or not is another matter. They want the money to come from the taxes and not out of the rates. As the expense under this Bill falls on the taxes instead of on the rates, I do not think it is to be wondered at that the county councils have no desire to work the Act and prepare the arrangement contained in the Bill which we have the honour to submit to your Lordships.
Another objection is that the tenants are obliged to hire land instead of purchasing it. Some people seem to have fallen under the spell of my old friend Mr. Jesse Collings, who is always preaching about the magic of property. In fact my noble friend Lord Rosebery last year went so far as to express his firm belief that deep rooted in the Scottish character is the desire for freeholds. But is it? An Act was passed in 1892, just before the Conservative Government went to the country, for the purpose of enabling a man to buy a small piece of land and settle on it, but somehow or other that Act missed fire altogether. As your Lordships were told by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, it has only been applied in one county—Ross-shire—throughout the whole of Scotland. Well, the Act was not very much more successful in England, because only 800 acres or a little more than one square mile, was purchased in sixteen years. I do not think my old friend Mr. Jesse Collings can be very proud of an Act which has had this deplorable result.
Let us look at the Act in which hiring is the rule. Under the Act of 1907, which came into operation on 1st January this year, 8,474 applications have been made up to this morning for 135,000 acres of land, or 226 square miles. And here I hope I may be permitted to express my grateful thanks to the county councils of England, and not only to them but to the landlords of England, for the businesslike way in which they are, with one or two small exceptions, applying the Act. I believe that in not one in 100 of these applications is any request made for permission to buy a holding. Therefore, 1265 when I see my old friend Mr. Jesse Collings waving his magic wand, with all his admirers round him, and trying to conjure up phantom freeholders, I am reminded of another magician, who said, "I can call spirits from the vasty deep," and of the rejoinder, "So can I or any other man, but will they come when thou dost call for them?" As to the objection to dual ownership, no two persons seem to agree on what dual ownership or dual control means.
Then objection is taken to the so-called application of Irish legislation to Scotland. Last year, as we all remember, my noble friend on the Cross Benches, Lord Rosebery, caused a sensation by his wonderful allegory of the maleficent angel who came sweeping down and injected the poison of Irish legislation into my right hon. and unfortunate friend Mr. Sinclair. I do not know where angels go, but they disappear. That seems to have had a great effect on the minds of other people, and the Duke of Montrose, in his admirable speech, if I may be permitted to say so, though I do not agree with it, said the Bill introduced the worst provisions of the Irish Land Acts and that the Land Court was an insult to the commonsense of his fellow countrymen. I should like, in passing, to say that I believe a Land Court has been adopted in Scotland before, and with very good results. My noble friend Lord Kintore, in his agreements, has an arrangement by which if there is any disagreement between himself and his tenants as regards the rent during the lease or the tenancy, it is referred to an independent arbiter who fixes the rent. I believe that is done in other cases, though the provision is not in the agreements.
Mr. Walter Long, who is not only the leader of the agricultural party in the Commons House of Parliament but was for a certain time Secretary for Ireland, stated in his place in Parliament—and if it had not been for the very strong rail in front of the Peers' Gallery in the House of Commons I should fallen straight on the floor through astonishment—that the Bill contains none of the virtues of the Irish system, but all its vices. I hear that statement cheered. I would ask the House to consider for a moment what are the conditions of land tenure in Ireland. There are three F's—fixity of 1266 tenure, fair rents, and free sale. There is no such thing as free sale in the Bill which we have laid on the Table of your Lordships' House. That, I suppose I shall be told, is one of the virtues of the Irish land system. What are the vicious principles that are left? Fair rents and fixity of tenure—no, not fixity of tenure, but security of tenure dependent on the fulfilment of certain obligations. Therefore what we have left is one F and one S—fair rents and security of tenure; and I ask, how in the name of common sense are you to get these two most necessary things without some independent authority?
Then we come to the question of the Land Court? I was told last Sunday, at Brooks's, by a Scottish landowner that it was monstrous to apply to Scotland legislation which we have not the courage to apply to England. I would ask, Is that so? Clause 7, Sub-section 10, Paragraph 6 of this Bill declares that the Land Court shall determine what is a fair rent for each new holding. The English Act which your Lordships were good enough to pass last year provides that the amount of rent to be paid by the county council for land compulsorily hired shall, in default of agreement, be settled by a single valuer appointed by the Board—that is myself. Can you imagine anything more drastic than that it should be settled by a single valuer from whose decision there is no appeal? Really the truth is that my noble friend Lord Camperdown has been taken in by his inamorata.
§ EARL CARRINGTON
My noble friend has been taken in by his inamorata, who brought him a bombshell in her trousseau in the shape of the Land Court. What is the result? My noble friend Young Lochinvar has been the whole of the winter straining and gasping and choking over the Scottish gnat, when this year, with his eyes wide open, he swallowed in this House the English camel, head, teeth, hoofs, hump, and tail.
It is said that Scotland does not want the Bill. The Duke of Montrose was kind enough to inform us that the Bill had not the support of His Majesty's 1267 Ministers. Now I wonder how he knew that. Then it was stated that if the division in the House of Commons had been taken by ballot the numbers would hare been quite different. Now, how on earth did the noble Lord know that? These are the statements that are recklessly made in this House, and then they are accepted by the Unionist Press tomorrow and taken as gospel. I respectfully submit that fifty-seven Scottish Members are in favour of the Bill and only five against it. We have been told that these Members do not represent their constituents. If Members of Parliament do not represent their constituents, in the name of fortune whom do they represent? As regards Scotland, who represents that country? Would it be contended that the Scottish Archers represent Scotland? Some people might go so far as to say that the Scotsman newspaper represented Scotland, but that would be so far-fetched that I need not dwell upon it. Other people might say that the members of your Lordship's House elected by the Scottish Peers were the representatives of Scotland. I yield to no man in my respect and veneration for this great and hereditary House, to which for forty years I have had the pride and privilege to belong, and no person either in public or in private shall, if I can help it, ever say one word derogatory of the honour and credit of your Lordships' House. But I do say that it is going a little too far to say that the Scottish Peers represent Scotland, or that the House of Lords as it is at present constituted—I do not know what its constitution may be after the Committee which has been sitting has reported—represents the people of this country.
I do not think that the man in the street, who is supposed to make and unmake Ministries and to hold elections in the hollow of his hand, will be satisfied by the arguments of noble Lords opposite or convinced by their logic. I think the man in the street will instinctively feel that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack put the matter plainand straight, and that Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman stated the case in a, nutshell when he said that the main reason for this Bill is that it represents what the Scottish people are desirous of having. While the Bill may be improved, and while—to quote the words of my noble and learned friend 1268 the Lord Chancellor—Amendments will be heartily welcomed, would it not be unwise for the predominant partner to interfere with what I honestly believe to be the decision of Scotland, and to mutilate and destroy a great measure of land reform on which the people of that country have set their hearts, and which we are determined to do our utmost to pass into law during the present session?
My Lords, I am quite sure the whole House is under a debt of obligation to the noble Earl who has just sat down. He has amused us, consciously and unconsciously, and has indulged in a wealth of illustration which has delighted us. But my purpose in rising is rather to thank him for more solid contributions to this discussion. One of the main questions is as to the merits of the English Act, and the noble Earl, who is the highest authority on the subject, has given the most abundant and conclusive testimony to the success of that measure. He has assured us that applications crowd in and has described the progress of that Act as a triumph, and it occurred to some of us sitting here whether, following the example of the Secretary of State for War, the noble Earl might not suggest that already there was proper occasion for a national thanksgiving.
The noble Earl carefully removed one by one some of the props upon which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack based his speech. On one point, at any rate, the noble Earl has strayed from historical fact, and I wish for a moment to put that right. He suggested, but perhaps it was merely in order that he might start his story against Lord Camperdown, that until a few weeks ago there was no rumour of opposition to the Bill on the grounds now taken. I spent some portion of last Sunday reading the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill last year. I did not take part in that debate, and, therefore, I am the more free to say that a more admirable exposition of the arguments which we are now advancing I have never heard. Everything which I could aspire to suggest to the House to-night was represented by the speakers on that occasion, and therefore it is a great mistake in fact to suppose that the Opposition are taking up any new position in this debate.
1269 One observation of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack was, I thought, not merely wise, but opportune, when he pointed out that the controversy in this House had been greatly narrowed by the fact of Lord Camperdown's and Lord Lovat's Bills being on the Table. The expediency of extending small holdings is not merely admitted but asserted by those who sit on this side of the House; the expediency of modifying the Crofters Act, again, is not merely admitted but is asserted by this side.
Therefore the controversy is narrowed to this question—Is the House in favour of or against the crofterisation of the Lowlands? That is the whole question which is in dispute between the two sides of the House. I may, perhaps, go too far in the direction of generosity when I gay there is common ground, because the provisions of this Bill shatter at a blow all the visions of what Lord Carrington called the magic of property. That is a topic which was dwelt upon with great unction in the House of Commons, not merely by Mr. Jesse Collings, but by numerous hon. Gentlemen, supporters of the present Government, and it is to be observed, as suggesting caution, that one at all events of the objects that have greatly advanced the popularity of small holdings has thus disappeared. I mention that merely for this practical reason. The whole subject of small holdings is more or less conjectural, provisional, tentative. I wish it well, but it is idle to speak as if it were certain that there would be, under the auspices of any Bills of this kind, that return to the land which so many desire. These proposals are, to a certain extent, untried, and of doubtful result. Is it wise, is it not madness to shatter an existing prosperous industry in the interests of a perverse addition to these schemes?
The crofterisation of the Lowlands is the sole issue in dispute. I hope the House will remember that the Crofters Act was careful not to distinguish between Highlands and Lowlands, but to distinguish districts within the Highland counties which had crofting parishes; and accordingly, what the Commissioners were bade to seek for were parishes where a state of society existed which, in the language of Sir George Trevelyan, which has been quoted to-night, was 1270 utterly alien to the general system of Scottish society. The position of matters in those crofting districts was this. They were by history and tradition inhabited by people who had never moved from their places for centuries They had, moreover—and this is of the gist and essence of the matter—put up their own houses and all the buildings on their crofts, and accordingly Parliament could not go far wrong when they accepted traditionary tenure.
I cannot help thinking that the authors of the Crofters Act, some of whom unfortunately are gone, could they be brought together, would view the present movement with the greatest surprise. It has never been suggested, until this Bill was produced, that the crofting system was appropriate to a progressive and enterprising community. The crofters had many high virtues, personal and political, but they had not the gift of enterprise and energy. Let us speak the truth about these things; and this goes deep into the present question. In those days the theory was accepted of traditionary tenure, and, as proof thereof, the fact that they had put up their buildings. The Crofters Act accepted that; it was not an idea constructed by the Commissioners or by Parliament; it was, on the contrary, a recognition, and, as we know, a reluctant recognition, of the existence of a somewhat backward state of society in those districts, and the measures proposed were intended to palliate the incident evils of that system. That has been, we are triumphantly told, a success. I believe the condition of the crofting people has improved, but it would not be accurate to leave out of account the fact that Government after Government have poured money into the crofting districts and have opened up the country by railways, by steamers, by improved fishing—indeed, have done all the things which tend to open up the country to modern civilisation; and my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh was most active and diligent in following out that beneficent policy. So do not let us suppose that, when the system has succeeded under those conditions, you are an inch nearer applying it to a progressive and enterprising community.
I turn to the application of this measure to the Lowlands. I take, for honour, the 1271 Lothians as the scene of the experiment. You go there and you find somebody who falls under this Bill—an existing tenant, a tenant at will, that is to say, from year to year. He is asked by one of the Commissioners, either in Gaelic or in English I do not know, "Have you traditionary tenure? Have your forefathers been here for generations?" Fortunately in some cases they have, but not by traditionary tenure. He would ask "Have you put up the house?" The man would laugh in his face. In the case of many of these people they came there the day before yesterday. And what do you do with them? You confer upon these men fixity of tenure, and they are to stay for all time. You confer fixity of tenure upon them, but you tell them at the same time they can go any day they like, on a year's notice. You tell them, also, that from this time onwards the landlord shall have no say as to what is done by way of buildings or repairs on the farm, and that that is to be at the discretion of the existing holder.
If I had to focus my opposition to the Bill it would be on the setting up of crofterdom for existing tenants in the Lowlands. I say it is a preposterous and monstrous proposal, and I cannot help thinking that the draftsman of this Bill, at all events has shared my apprehension, because you will find that this momentous change is introduced entirely by way of reference. By a stroke of the pen the Crofters Act is applied to the Lowlands. The root of the Crofters Act was that the tenure was perpetual; in this case each of these men comes there upon a contract; and I ask in all seriousness what is the reason that the privilege is confined to tenants at will, and not given to leaseholders? Why is it to be given to holders of £50 and not to the man paying £51, or, for the matter of that, why is it not to be given to the man paying £500? Each of these various classes, the one as much as the other, is there under contract, A part of his contract is that he shall go at the end of his tenure—there is not a vestige of traditional tenure about it; but the landlord is to be deprived of his proprietory right to resume his farm, and with no compensation.
Just let us look at the effect of this. The effect will be to isolate landlords from all power of improving their land; 1272 they can do nothing whatever in that direction. It has been said over and over again—I am not a landlord myself, and therefore I speak the more freely—that the landlords of Scotland have taken a pride and interest in the management, of their landed estates, as no doubt have English landlords, and if you take from landlords the right to control the development of their land you strike off a very large part of its value. One curious part of this measure is this, and it seems to have wholly escaped His Majesty's Government. I accuse them of filching; part of the value from one person and giving it to another, but they do not give to the other the whole of what they filch. It is lost, and one of my great complaints against this Bill is that it diminishes the aggregate value of land. It is not merely the case of taking from one and giving to another, but it shuts-out the access of capital to the improvement of the land. I am perfectly certain of this, that if the Bill passes, the value of land will be such that any man thinking of putting his money into it would refuse to do so, so long as there were brewery shares in the market.
Then, my Lords, I should like to know who are the people to whom will be entrusted the destiny of this part of the agricultural world? The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack was rather surprised at this being regarded as an. attack on the county councils. He seemed to think that it would be natural for the county councils to come and beg for these powers, and to deprecate their not being given to them. I daresay there are many county councillors present in your Lordships' House this evening, and they will agree with me that anything of that kind is the last-thing that would occur to county councils. My attack with regard to the ignoring of the county councils is partly due to this, that I object entirely to the bureaucracy which is set up in another place. Who are these men? We are assured by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack that the Land Court will be composed of certain highly respectable persons. I am willing to take that for granted. But coming to closer quarters, what do we know about them? One of them is to be our old friend "the barrister of ten years" standing," who, according to Sydney Smith, may be taken as the primum 1273 mobile of human existence. We have him to begin with. There is nothing said of the others—except two things— first, that one of them must speak Gaelic; and, secondly, that their decision is to be final. They would deal with weighty matters. Every few years they would have the right to revise the rents, not of new people only, but of old existing tenants; and no matter by what process of reasoning they arrived at their decision there would be no appeal. Therefore the whole direct management of the agriculture of Scotland is to be put into the final hands of this nondescript body.
My Lords, do not let it be forgotten, in considering this question, that this refers to a large portion of the land of Scotland. I was surprised to see from a recent return the extent to which the land in Scotland is in the hands of small holders who would be brought under the land Court by this Bill. I listened with close attention to what was said by the Lord Chancellor and by Lord Carrington on the point, but I heard no valid argument in favour of the exclusion of the county council. But we who know Scotland cannot forget that there are arguments which are not advanced in this House but which perhaps operate out of it. Look at your Press. What do the newspapers say about the Scottish county councils? They say that they are landlord preserves—Tory preserves. I should like to know what these people would be after. These county councils are elected by the widest possible household suffrage, with all the latest novelties, including woman suffrage. Accordingly I am afraid that, unless you are going positively to proscribe the landlord, and declare him ineligible, it will be impossible to get any constituency to do different from its predecessors. It is the case here, to quote a phrase of Mr. John Morley's, that there is no new formula of exorcism nor any untried enchantment. The reason these men are elected is that their neighbours know them and trust them, and send them to do the county business. One of the losses of this Bill will be that, instead of having local opinion and local sentiment represented on the delicate subject of the assignment of small holdings, you will have a bureaucracy which, starting from a Gaelic-speaking country as its basis, has, by 1274 tradition and reputation in Scotland, methods and proceedings which are entirely alien to the active modern stirring world which exists in agriculture in the Lowlands.
I have detained your Lordships perhaps too long, but I should like to say a word in conclusion upon the general merits of this scheme. The Lord Chancellor has indicated that he who would judge of the magnitude and beneficence of this scheme by the figure of £65,000 takes a very contracted view. I hope his colleague the Chancellor of the Exchequer has authorised that statement, and I hope that if the worst comes to the worst there will be a fulfilment of that faint and vague promise. But £65,000 and the best intentions of the Lord Chancellor will not sound in value very big if you put against it the driving of capital out of the country and the destroying of the credit of land. That is really the alternative which this House has before it. There is no room for creating prejudice by representing this as a landlords' question. It is a question affecting the whole of the agricultural community, and, through it, the whole of the people of Scotland. You will by this Bill, should it ever pass, strike wantonly and unnecessarily a fatal blow at this interest. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has admitted that there are other ways of dealing with the holdings question. The subject to which I have mainly addressed myself is the interference with the existing tenants in the Lowlands. That was very lightly touched by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, but there is the kernel of the matter, and I would entreat this House to act firmly on that subject, feeling sure that justice will be done by the wide honest public which sees through the veils of party, and will pronounce the opinion that, if we were to sanction this, there is no folly that we would challenge.
§ LORD CLINTON
There is no question but that every noble Lord on this side of the House is keenly anxious to provide a system of small holdings for Scotland on terms at least as favourable as have been granted to England. That has been shown by the Amendments moved last year and this year, and also by the Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord Camperdown. We are keenly 1275 desirous that a good and proper scheme of small holdings should be brought in for Scotland, and I say it is not this House which stands in the way of a scheme being adopted. It is His Majesty's Government themselves. They have tied themselves up in a scheme which has not the support of the people of Scotland, which has been condemned by agriculturists both individually and collectively, and which has been severely criticised by their own supporters. I say that the Government's blind adherence to that particular scheme forms at the present moment the only bar to the extension of small holdings in Scotland.
We have been told that the Government scheme is the only possible one, and the only one which suits the situation. We have been asked to believe that, in order to extend a system of small holdings, it is essential to introduce all those items included in the term "crofterisation," every one of which has been condemned by noble Lords in this House. The institution of dual ownership, the setting up of an autocratic body or a new Board of Agriculture, are not of the slightest importance in regard to a small holding scheme. They are absolutely excrescences. They do not touch the principle, and they amount to so much deadweight of controversial matter which of themselves will, I am afraid, make it absolutely impossible for a scheme of small holdings to be passed for Scotland this session.
It has been shown that the method proposed by the Government is not the only way in which small holdings can be provided for Scotland. There is an alternative in the Bill introduced in your Lordships' House this session by my noble friend Lord Camperdown; it is on the lines of the measure adopted last year for England, and which the President of the Board of Agriculture speaks of as having been a very great success. It was frequently said during the autumn campaign that it was impossible to adapt that scheme to Scotland. Those of your Lordships who are acquainted with agriculture in both countries know perfectly well that not only could that scheme be adapted, but that the conditions are so similar that very few alterations would be necessary to make the Act of last year apply. It is no new principle to legislate 1276 for Scotland and England agriculturally on the same lines. I would cite, as precedents, the Act of 1892 and the Acts of 1900 and 1906. Moreover, the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1883 forms an exact precedent for the course your Lordships are now asked to adopt by noble Lords on this side of the House.
The problem with which we have to deal is the same in Scotland as in England. I am quite certain that the words used by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack with regard to the congestion in our cities were in no sense too highly coloured. Side by side with that congestion, and, in some degree, the cause of it, is the depopulation of our rural districts—a matter which must cause, and does cause, the greatest concern. Whether it is possible to deal successfully with this problem remains in doubt; but, although we hope and believe that a scheme for increasing small holdings may have some effects in ameliorating the congestion and in stemming depopulation, we have no reason to think that an extension of the Crofters Act would have any effect upon either question. It has been shown by the evidence given before the Crofters Commission that the Crofters Act has not had any effect upon the depopulation of the crofting area, and I do not think we have any reason to suppose that an extension of that system would have other than prejudicial results. I hope, as I say, that the extension of small holdings may prevent depopulation; but whether it is possible to create small holdings on a sufficiently large scale to touch the congestion in our large cities is a matter that remains to be proved. I say that the problem we have to deal with is the same in Scotland as in England; and, if that is so, and if the conditions are alike and the agricultural system practically identical, it seems to me perfectly obvious that the solution might be the same in both instances.
In discussing this measure last year we called attention to the serious hardship which would be entailed upon many tenant farmers by the vesting of compulsory powers in a central autocratic body for taking land during the progress of a tenancy. The short experience of the English Act has shown us that this is a real objection. You cannot go about among the farmers in England at the 1277 present moment without seeing that every man is nervous about it. They do not know when their turn is to come, but they do know that, if the compulsory powers of the Act are exercised to the degree of interfering to any large extent with the size of their holdings, it may mean to them the actual difference between a profit and a loss; and this is particularly the case when you consider the nature of the land which will always be taken. It must be good land, because no one would condemn the small holder to eke out a miserable and precarious existence on a poor few acres of land. Speaking during the Second Reading discussion a few nights ago the Lord Advocate pointed to the fact that there were 3,000,000 acres of land in Scotland devoted to purposes of sport, sufficient, he said, to apply four and a half acres to every man, woman, and child in Scotland. I do not think it is necessary for me to waste one, moment in dealing with the almost absurd fallacies and the great practical impossibilities which underlie that; but I think it shows up this Bill in rather a remarkable way when it becomes necessary to use such a feeble argument as that in its support.
By this Bill farms under 150 acres in extent are to be exempt from interference. It seems to me that that average, as stated, has really very little meaning. One hundred and fifty acres of hill land at 1s. an acre and 150 acres of good arable land are placed in the same category, and both owners are liable to interference. I submit that it is a real hardship to deprive any man, by legislation, of the possibility of making a profit out of his holding, and to interfere with the size of a holding no matter how well it may at the moment be cultivated, and also during the currency of the lease. It was stated the other night that no interference could take place during the currency of the lease, but only leases in force in the year 1906 are exempt. All those entered into last year, this year, and in the future will be liable to exactly the same interference. It is of enormous advantage to agriculturists generally that there should be, as far as possible, absolute security in regard to holdings. We have enjoyed this security to a great extent in Scotland under our nineteen- 1278 year leases, and under the custom of the country which has prevented landlords turning out the tenants as long as they behaved fairly under their leases. That custom has been translated into legal terms by the Act of 1906, but every one of the securities are to be swept away by this Bill. A sense of insecurity will, therefore, spread over the country, for no individual farming more than 150 acres will know when he may be turned out, and he may be turned out at the bidding of any one man, probably not one whit more deserving than himself.
The Secretary for Scotland, in explaining his reasons for ignoring the county councils, said that these bodies were not so thoroughly representative as those in England. He said that every county contained remote and inaccessible districts without rapid means of communication, and that members of the county councils found it difficult to attend the meetings I think that is a most undeserved slut upon our county councils in Scotland. I hold that they have done their duty admirably, and that they are as fully representative of their constituencies as any bodies of the kind. The argument is that the members do not attend because they live in remote and inaccessible parts of the country. I hardly think those words can be applied to the great bulk of the county councillors in Scotland. I have been myself a member of a Scottish county council for many years, and I have also had a seat upon an English county council, and I think I may say, without drawing an unfair comparison, that the members of the county councils in Scotland attend, and that the business is carried on, equally as well as is the case in England.
My Lords, I do not propose to detain your Lordships for more than a few moments, but as the-noble Earl the Minister for Agriculture quarrelled with a statement that was made that His Majesty's Ministers were not on one accord in regard to this Bill, I should like to draw attention to the controversy that raged round the Bill during the Parliamentary recess. We remember the protest which the First Lord of the Admiralty made against what was done in your Lordships' House 1279 on the Second Reading of the Bill. We know also that he went down to Perth, and there made a statement which was practically the very opposite of what he stated in this House. The noble Lord shakes his head, but he most certainly said he preferred the English Bill to the Scottish Bill.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (LORD TWEEDMOUTH)
I beg the noble Lord's pardon. What I said was that I liked the idea of the county councils being brought into the Bill. Otherwise I was perfectly contented with the Bill as it was drafted.
Of course, I accept the noble Lord's explanation, but on that point, at all events, he admits that he would prefer the county councils brought in. During the recess I think nearly every Minister spoke in Scotland, and I confess I do not think that they advanced one good argument for the Bill. The Secretary for Scotland claims that this Bill is based upon the excellent work of the Crofters Act. But the Commission sent out by various followers of the Government to inquire into the working of the Act condemned it in every way. That Commission was composed of gentlemen who were also members of the Commission which the Secretary for Scotland sent to Denmark. Not only was their Report a tremendous condemnation of the whole of the Crofters Acts, but they stated that these Acts had in no way arrested the migration from the rural districts into the towns. The Prime Minister at Edinburgh, in the early days of October, referred to the success of small holdings in Wales, and added that he saw no reason why they should not be equally successful in Scotland. That statement was followed by a letter in The Times, of 10th October, from Mr. D. A. Thomas, M.P., an ardent admirer and faithful follower of the Prime Minister. Mr. Thomas pointed out that the statement of the Prime Minister was mot in accordance with the facts. Indeed, at was only an example of the inaccuracies which have been uttered by Ministers all over the country. Mr. Thomas also wrote to The Times stating that he did not share the faith of those who believed in the power of Parliament to counteract or control the economic forces which 1280 had drawn the population from the country to the towns. He added—Any such error as 100 per cent, made, in calculating the strength of the foundation on which the argument is based must seriously impair the stability of the superstructure."—and in a later letter he said—When I picture to myself the Prime Minister, surrounded by his colleagues, endeavouring to stem the tide of migration, I cannot help thinking of the story of Canute.I do not propose, at this late hour, to go into the objections which we Scotsmen have to this Bill; but we entirely refuse the Land Court. We have seen its results in Ireland. In Ireland you have the Land Court, together with every kind of crime, iniquity, and wickedness. We in Scotland do not want that, but we are very much afraid, if you give us similar laws, that the same kind of thing may take place in Scotland. We totally object to the crofterisation of the whole of Scotland. The condition of agriculture in the Lowlands of Scotland are the same as in England, and we ask to be treated in exactly the same manner as England was treated last year. We also think that a nineteen-years tenure is as much as is good for any man. It means practically half the lifetime of the tenant. We do all the improvements for him, he has simply to put his capital into the land which he works. We also strongly object to the severance of Scotland from the Board of Agriculture in England. Why should we be divided? We are perfectly satisfied to be under the Board of Agriculture of the United Kingdom, and we feel that to set up another body in its place for Scotland would foe a fatal mistake. In conclusion I say that, if there is to be any conciliation or arrangement in regard to this Bill, we Scotsmen must insist upon the Land Court, the crofterisation of Scotland, and the separation from the Board of Agriculture being entirely given up.
§ Moved, That the debate be adjourned till To-morrow.—(Lord Herschell.)
§ On Question, Motion for adjournment agreed to.
§ House adjourned at twenty minutes before Eight o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.